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Victims of the Communist Regime


There is a village in the close vicinity of Kyiv which by now is actually a part of Kyiv though it retains most of the features of a village rather than of a city. The name of the village is Bykivnya. In the early 1990s, shortly after Ukraine had regained its independence, mass graves were discovered there. The graves contained the remains of thousands upon thousands of people, the victims of the soviet Great Terror.

The total number of the bodies interred near Bykivnya is estimated to be in excess of one hundred thousand. All of them were executed or tortured to death by the NKVD, soviet secret service. The first victims were buried there as early as 1936; the latest date to 1941, the time shortly before the German invasion of June 1941.

The number of people shot by the Nazis in Babyn Yar in Kyiv during their occupation of Kyiv is estimated to be one hundred thousand people. The soviet and Nazi regimes had many horrifying similarities, even in the number of people they destroyed, though in this respect the soviets outdid the Nazis.

The soviets claimed that the mass graves in Bykivnya contain “the victims of the Nazi atrocities”, but in 1989, the soviets at last admitted that the people buried in Bykivnya were victims of the soviet secret service.

Similar mass graves were discovered in Berdychiv, Vinnytsya, Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Ivano-Frankivsk, Luhansk, Odesa, Poltava, Sumy, Uman, Kharkiv, Khmelnytsky, Cherkasy, Chernihiv, Bila Tserkva, Mariupol, Nizhyn, Stry, Chortkiv, Berezhany, Kremenets and other places of Ukraine, but Bykivnya remains so far the biggest known mass grave.

Many sites of mass graves were mentioned in a secret report (of February 28 1989) of the then head of the KGB in Ukraine M. Holushko to the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Ukraine V. Shcherbitsky.

The Security Service of Ukraine continues its work on examining the KGB archives and making them accessible to the public.

In 1994, a memorial complex was unveiled in Bykivnya to commemorate the victims of one of the most tyrannical and bloodthirsty regimes of all time. Since the executions were done in secret, with many people shot without any trial in the secret service prisons, it is difficult to establish the names of the victims. The Security Service of Ukraine, which has been examining the KGB archives for several years now, has established the names of over 14,000 people who are buried in Bykivnya.

In May 2009, the President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko visited Bykivnya to pay homage to the victims of soviet repressions. In his speech he said that “A lot has been done in recent years. Following my order, a considerable number of the archive documents that deal with the Ukrainian liberation movement, political repressions and famines, has been declassified. Special centers at which everyone can get access to the documents that deal with the acts of communist terror are being created. Such centers have already been set up at the cities of Kyiv, Odesa, Kharkiv, Simferopol, Sevastopol, Uzhgorod, Mykolayiv, Zhytomyr, Zaporizhzhya, Luhansk, Vinnytsya, Sumy and Khmelnytsky. Soon, such centers will be established in all the Oblasts of Ukraine. I want to thank the Security Service of Ukraine for their diligent work in establishing the names of the victims of the soviet regime… 18 more secret mass graves of the victims of the Great Terror of 1937–1941 have been recently discovered.”

Speaking about the victims of the soviet totalitarian regime, President Yushchenko said, “In the bloodiest century in the history of mankind, the Ukrainian nation got caught in the struggle between two totalitarian regimes — the soviet communist regime and the Nazis. Both regimes were similar in their hatred of the humankind. They are similar in the unprecedented scale of massacres they committed.

… Among the people buried in Bykivnya are writers Yakiv Savchenko, Mykhailo Semenko, Mykola Skuba, Veronika Chernyakhivska-Hanzha, Vasyl Chechvyansky, brother of the well-know writer Ostap Vishnya; Mykola Boychuk, founder of the Academy of Art and professor of the Kyiv Art Institute; sculptor Ivan Padalka; academicians Oleksandr Asatkin, Yevhen Oppokov, Volodymyr Yurynets; Serhiy Sapronov, head of the Kyiv Medical Institute; Professor Oleksiy Synyavsky and associate professor Oleksiy Bondarenko who taught Ukrainian language and literature at the Kyiv Pedagogical Institute in Kyiv; Kost’ Matyushenko and Volodymyr Samborovsky, priests of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church; Professor Oleksandr Hlaholev, a scholar known for his works who taught at the Kyiv Religious Academy…

“Unfortunately, Ukrainian parliament has not yet considered bills that I introduced, that would establish the legal status of those who fought for the liberation and independence of Ukraine. I am indignant at the indifference and unconcern that many of the Ukrainian high-ranking politicians and officials demonstrate. They avoid getting involved in this work. They seem to want to rule Ukraine without the Ukrainian language, without Ukrainian culture, without Ukrainians altogether. Their dream is to have Ukraine as a huberniya [province] in which they would have undivided power.”

“As a result of such attitudes, we face attempts made to deny the crimes of the communist regime.”

“Those who deny Holodomor [Great Famine], those who justify Stalin, those who go against what is sacred for the Ukrainians and against the Ukrainians themselves, are doomed. They side with the one of the most evil forces that the history has known. But I am absolutely convinced that their black hopes will be dashed…”

“Ukraine must once and for all cleanse itself of the emblems of the regime that has destroyed millions of innocent people. There is no justification for such a regime. There are those who cynically insist that such emblems reflect a part of our history. No, it is not our history, it is a part of the history of the defunct communist system. Preservation of the emblems of that regime is sacrilege, cruel mockery of the memory of the victims.”

“During the years 2007–2008, over four hundred monuments to the leaders of the communist regime, to those who organized the great Famine of 1932–1933, to those who conducted repressions of 1937– 1941, were removed; over three thousand topographical names, which had been named after them, were renamed. But there is still a lot to be done in this respect…”

“The Ukrainian nation has risen from the ruins of the soviet empire... We have won…”


On his visit to Bykivnya where a memorial meeting was held, President Yushchenko was accompanied by a number of officials. The site of the mass graves was given the status of the National Historical and Memorial Preserve Bykivnyansky mohyly (Bukivnya graves) in 2006.

Editors’ note:

The history of repressions and “purges” in the Soviet Union begins from the very early days of the Bolshevik power. Repressions against “enemies of the revolution” were used and promoted by Lenin and other Bolshevik leaders as a systematic method of instilling fear and facilitating social control. There were periods of heightened repressions, such as the Red Terror during the Civil Wars that erupted some time after the capture of power by the Bolsheviks in a coup led by Lenin and Trotsky, in October of 1917. There was the deportation of “kulaks” — rich and hard-working peasants who were thought to pose a threat to the soviet regime, and who opposed collectivization; there were severe famines organized as a method of suppression.

In the western world the term “the Great Terror”, as applied to the massive purges and repressions of the 1930s, was popularized by the title of Robert Conquest’s book, The Great Terror. The title of the book must have been inspired by the period of the Great Terror (la Grande Terreur) at the end of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution.

The series of campaigns of political repression and persecution in the Soviet Union was launched by the soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Probably, originally it was meant as a means of doing away with potential and real political rivals and opponents, and as a tool of strengthening the regime by eliminating those who could pose some threat to it. The campaign of massive arrests involved literally millions of people and its scale was unprecedented in history.

A distinctive feature of the Great Purge was that the ruling — and only — party itself underwent repressions on a massive scale. The purge of the Party, which was motivated by the desire on the part of the leadership to remove dissident elements from the Party and to consolidate the authority of Joseph Stalin, was accompanied by the purge of the whole society. It involved the purge of the Communist Party and Government officials, repression of peasants, Red Army leadership, and the persecution of unaffiliated persons, characterized by widespread police surveillance, widespread suspicion of “saboteurs”, imprisonment, and executions. It is still unknown how many people were actually executed, how many more died in GULAG labor camps.

Additional campaigns of repression were carried out against social groups which were accused of acting against the “Soviet people’s” state, and the politics of the Communist Party.

A number of purges were officially explained as an elimination of the possibilities of sabotage and espionage, in view of an expected war with Germany. Millions of victims were falsely accused of various political crimes (espionage, wrecking, sabotage, anti-soviet agitation, conspiracies to prepare uprisings and coups, many of the accusations being utterly absurd and preposterous) and then executed by shooting, or sent to the Gulag labor camps. Many died at the penal labor camps due to starvation, disease, exposure and overwork.

The Great Purge was started under the NKVD (Narodny Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del — People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs) chief Genrikh Yagoda, but the height of the campaigns occurred while the NKVD was headed by Nikolai Yezhov, from September 1936 to August 1938 (hence the name “Yezhovshchina”). The “good job” was continued by Lavrentiy Beria and by the KGB, NKVD successor (their job done, Yagoda, Yezhov and Beria were arrested and executed). The campaigns were carried out according to the general line, and by direct orders, of the Party Politburo headed by Stalin.

It is very unfortunate that the horrendous crimes perpetrated by the soviet regime, which resulted in many more victims than the repressions in Nazi Germany, were obscured in the west by the Soviet Union’s struggle against Nazi Germany as a member of the Allies. The Holocaust is remembered — but the victims, whose numbers are far greater than those of the Holocaust, of the soviet regime, the most brutal of all that ever existed, remain largely forgotten.

That is why the truth about Bykivnya and other similar places of internment of hundreds of thousands of people is as important as the truth about other crimes of the Nazis and of the Soviets.






Photos by Mykola LAZARENKO

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